Don't blame Dennis Ross for the Oslo peace accords. And don't blame him for
the catastrophe that passed for American Middle East policy even though he
helped direct it as the U.S. envoy to the Middle East from 1988-2000, a period
stretching from the beginning of the first Bush administration to the dying days
of the Bill Clinton era.
|Ross and Arafat|
Forces far more powerful and more rooted in the region bear the prime
responsibility for these things than the mild-mannered American diplomat.
No, don't blame Dennis Ross personally for the thousands of lives sacrificed
in the name of the peace process that he championed. He didn't plant any of
the bombs, and his good intentions are not really in question.
But the questions for those who delve into Ross' recently published memoir
"The Missing Peace" and even those who don't bother wading through its
turgid 800 pages of prose are the same: Did Ross learn anything from these
failures? And what, if anything, would he do differently if he got another chance to
play the game?
Given that he is an informal foreign-policy adviser to Democratic
presidential candidate John Kerry, this is not an idle question. Many in the know assume
Ross will be brought back to the State Department if Kerry wins the election.
Unfortunately, the answer to the above is not a lot.
Sure, amidst the hundreds of pages of excruciating play-by-play of every up
and down of the process during these years, there are a few nuggets of
ARAFAT IS STILL THE OBSTACLE
In retrospect, Ross admits the cardinal sin of the Clinton administration's
attitude toward the accords. He acknowledges that the White House and the State
Department did nothing to hold Yasser Arafat and the rest of his merry band
of Palestinian Authority henchmen accountable as they used their newfound power.
Ross, the supposed arbiter of peace, sanctioned official whitewashes of the
P.A. as it built a corrupt dictatorship intent on fomenting hatred of Israel
and carrying on a terror war against its existence, rather than fostering peace.
And with the passage of time and the complete collapse of his carefully
orchestrated negotiations into the horror of Arafat's blood-spattered intifada,
Ross now sees Arafat as the prime obstacle to peace. In interviews and speeches
conducted to promote the book, Ross is prepared to concede that Arafat will
have to go before peace can arrive.
On this point, Ross' book advances the debate on the demise of Oslo. He
refutes the claims put forward by Arafat and his apologists that the offer laid on
the table by Israel during the July 2000 Camp David summit was of no value.
Ross sets forward the extraordinary concessions made by former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak that would have given the Palestinians a viable state with a
capital in Jerusalem.
At least on this point, Ross is clear: Arafat rejected peace and statehood,
and instead chose war. The peace was there to be had. The problem was, Arafat
didn't want it.
And it is in this nugget of revelation that many of Ross' other conclusions
about his 12 years of diplomacy fall apart.
Like many others who have urged more and more concessions from Israel, Ross
claims that the conditions outlined by President Clinton, which embraced
Barak's plan and added to it, remain the only possible terms of peace.
What he never explains is why Israel's acceptance of these ideas would end
the war with the Palestinians. In fact, if there is any reasonable conclusion to
be drawn from Ross' career, it is that the Palestinians are at least a
generation away from accepting Israel's existence and any hope of peace.
That is why Ariel Sharon's government, with support from the current Bush
administration, is unwilling to talk further with Arafat, and prefer instead to
unilaterally draw their own borderline without the illusions of past peace
deals to prevent them from defending themselves.
WHY DID THEY DO IT?
Although Ross cannot be blamed for Oslo (it was cooked up by Israeli leftist
Yossi Beilin and his confederates, not by the Clinton State Department), he,
along with Presidents Bush the elder and Clinton, does bear some responsibility
for the Palestinian decision to choose terror over statehood.
Why? Because everything that Ross and his masters did during their years in
power had convinced Arafat that they would never turn their backs on him, no
matter what outrages the Palestinians committed.
No amount of violence or bad will exhibited by the Arabs would deter either
Bush I or Clinton via their envoy Ross from pressuring Israel to give more and
more. Sold a program of "land for peace," the Israelis got "land for terror"
As it happens, Ross is using his book tour as a platform to make the point
that the current Bush administration's decision to cut off Arafat and its
refusal to push negotiations until the Palestinians get their act together is a
mistake that has cost Israeli lives.
This blatant partisan dig isn't merely misleading and unfair. It also shows
that four years on the sidelines appears to have sharpened Ross' appetite for
power more than his powers of introspection. Ross resents Bush the younger's
decision to reverse decades of State Department folly in the Middle East.
For all of his hard work and unquestioned desire for peace, it was Ross who
convinced the killers that they would face no penalties for their crimes.
George W. Bush and his team have made mistakes, but at least they understand that
the policies pushed by the president's father and Clinton were dead-ends that
help create the current impasse.
In the event that John Kerry is elected this November, he should think long
and hard before he launches Ross back into yet another series of negotiations
that can only end in false expectations for the Palestinians and more horror
Ross may see his book as an apologia for a career and an argument for
continuing it, but Democrats and Republicans alike should view it as a monument to